How to stop local Authority Planners from quitting

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How to stop local Authority Planners from quitting

There are very few planners I know who didn’t start their career in a Local Authority. Some have stayed and risen through the ranks whereas others have moved to the private sector or consultancy. (It amuses me when I hear developers say that they cannot get a meeting with officers. Of course you can’t, you’ve poached them all.)

So how do we motivate young planners to stay in LAs? Sorry about this, but here I must introduce Frederick Herzberg (Fred) and Sir Alex Ferguson (Fergie).

In the 1960s, Fred came up with a theory on how to motivate employees that he split into two areas that I call ‘the obvious’ and the ‘not so obvious’.

The former are things like pay, a decent work environment, and good management practices.

The ‘not so obvious’ are things like recognition, potential for career development, the work itself and responsibility. So how do you motivate young planners to stay? Here’s my tuppenny ha’penny worth.

Recognition. Now let’s hear from Fergie when he spoke at Harvard – one the world’s top business schools. ‘For any human being – there is nothing better than hearing “Well done”. Those are the two best words ever invented.’ Well done, Fergie.

Autonomy. Micromanagement is soul-destroying. Delegate and let people get on with job. What senior planners find boring, for example enforcement, juniors will thrive as it’s all new.
Mentoring. People like to learn from those more experienced. Mentors should get to know new starters – their background, family, personal issues (besides money). An off-site cup of coffee or a drink after work (better – in vino veritas) can ‘clear the mines’ before they explode in a resignation letter.

Career mapping. This is essential. You are here and you want to be there. How do we do it. What are the benchmarks you need to achieve to progress? Planning will either give a great career in your first job – usually at a local authority – or a great start to your career…like Fiona Fletcher-Smith, Chief Executive of London and Quadrant or Jennie Daly, Group Operations Director soon to be CEO at Taylor Wimpey.

Flexibility. Covid has been a game changer for flexible working, but it should have been obvious before the pandemic. Let people work from home some of the time – after all, if you don’t trust them, why did you hire them?

Respect. Members are the non-executive ‘Board’ of a multi-million-pound organisation. If they go to war with the Executive (officers), it can only lead to disaster. I have seen a case officer nearly reduced to tears (since you ask, it was a man) following a public barracking by a member who was representing purely local interests. Members must face the fury of their electorate so officers must also respect their invidious position that they find themselves in.

Excitement. You are not a planner but a social engineer. Decisions that you will help make will decide the future of communities – for better or worse. If you want to leave a mark, then planning is the place for you.

These are all what I call fuzzy factors, but as Fred says, without facing these you will never motivate people. How is your organisation doing?

Have a good weekend.

Tom